The Publican, Pharisee, Pride, Hind Ends, and Nuns (Luther)

The truth that God humbles the proud and exalts the humble goes hand in hand with the truth that Jesus came to save not the “righteous,” but sinners.  God gives grace to the humble – this is an OT and NT teaching.  Martin Luther understood this very well and made some excellent and biting comments on the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee (Lk. 18:9-14) in a sermon he preached in 1532.  Here are some parts of the sermon:

“Therefore, if a man is learned, let him thank our God; it is God’s gift to him, not his own, nor something to boast about.  If a man is a prince and knows how to rule well, let him be thankful to God and not vaunt himself, for it is God’s endowment and gift, not his own.  But rare is the person who does not boast when so endowed.  Today high-mindedness prevails everywhere, and people don’t know their forehead from their hind end.  The stomping and shuffling has no end or limit.  And for that reason, such high-minded folks are despised as shameless individuals before God, more insignificant than dogs under the table.  For the Lord God is a God who cannot tolerate arrogant presumption.  He readily bestows talents, fortunes, nobility, princedoms, kingdoms, empires, but he will not tolerate presumption in any man.”

“…Our peasants in the rural country villages gloat audaciously because they have so many dollars, but in a little while they will be dumped over.  Our burghers in the cities, too, are proud and haughty, ready to make themselves into kings, if they could.  The devil is always at work prompting presumption among many people who possess even just a little wealth.  The nuns in the convent were particular victims of damnable arrogance, as they boasted that Christ was their bridegroom and they his bride, but other women [were] not.  Their chastity became unvarnished, presumptuous pride.  That is why God also declared, ‘If you nuns in the cloisters will vaunt yourselves because of your chastity – I’m aware of your constancy, don’t worry – I will go into the whorehouses (pardon me for saying it), baptize those sisters when they repent, and take them into heaven, while you arrogant nuns will be left out.'”

“…Therefore, let everyone humble himself before God, be caring toward his neighbor and not despise him, serve and work faithfully to earn his living, eat and drink; let him take care not to become proud and puffed up, as he sees that he, too, has unclean hands.  To these God gives his grace, but those who do not obey will be cast out.  For God cannot endure pride, as Mary recounts in her hymn of praise, ‘He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts; he hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.'”

Martin Luther, Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. 6, p. 380-386.

Shane Lems

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